Signs of tempered progress in today’s Iraq
BAGHDAD — It’s been more than six years since a bomb ripped away the eyes from Shams Karim, killed her mother and left the little girl, now 7, blind and disfigured for life. Psychiatric drugs help control her outbursts of crying and screaming.
Throughout Iraq there are tens of thousands of victims like her whose lives are forever scarred by the violence of war. Their wounds — and those of tens of thousands of U.S. and other foreign service members — may never entirely heal.
In Baghdad, life goes on much as it has since the Ottoman sultan ruled these parts. Porters force loaded carts through narrow bazaars as amateur breeders’ beloved pigeons swoop overhead. The calls to prayer from turquoise-domed mosques provide a rhythm to the day.
Yet the legacy of a war that began a decade ago remains very much a part of life here too. Bullet holes still pockmark buildings, and towers wrecked by American missiles and tank shells have not fully been rebuilt. Iraqi soldiers in body armor corral cars into road-clogging checkpoints, their fingers close to the trigger, ever wary of the next attack. At 1 a.m., a curfew shuts down the capital’s streets, many still lined with blast walls.
It’s hard nowadays to find anybody in much of the country who hasn’t lost a friend or relative to the bloodletting that followed the U.S.-led invasion. Shams’ mother is buried among the densely packed graves in Najaf, where an ancient cemetery is at least 40 percent larger than it was before the war. Each new bombing sends more coffin-topped cars south to the hot, dusty city of the dead.
Bus carrying college lacrosse team crashes
CARLISLE, Pa. — A tour bus carrying a college’s women’s lacrosse team to a game went off the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Saturday and crashed into a tree, killing a pregnant coach and the driver and sending others to hospitals, authorities said.
Lacrosse players from Seton Hill University and three coaches were among the 23 people aboard when the bus crashed at about 9 a.m., turnpike spokeswoman Renee Colborn said. It’s not clear what caused the crash, but state police were investigating, said Megan Silverstram of the Cumberland County public safety department.
Kristina Quigley of Greensburg, 30, was flown to a hospital and died there from injuries from the crash, Cumberland County authorities said Saturday that. They say Quigley was about six months pregnant and her unborn child did not survive. The driver, 61-year-old Anthony Guaetta of Johnstown, died at the scene of the crash.
Two other victims were flown by helicopter to Penn State Hershey Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Danielle Ran said. She did not give their conditions. Officials said all other passengers were taken to hospitals as a precaution.
The bus came to a stop upright on the side of the road with part of its left side shorn off, photos from the scene showed, though it’s unclear whether that was from the impact or rescue operation.
Police: Tourist gang-raped in central India
NEW DELHI — A Swiss woman who was on a cycling trip in central India with her husband has been gang-raped by eight men, police said Saturday. The attack comes three months after the fatal gang-rape of a woman aboard a New Delhi bus outraged Indians.
Authorities detained and questioned 13 men in connection with the latest attack, which occurred Friday night as the couple camped out in a forest in Madhya Pradesh state after bicycling from the temple town of Orchha, local police officer R.K. Gurjar said.
The men beat the couple and gang-raped the woman, he said. They also stole the couple’s mobile phone, a laptop computer and 10,000 rupees ($185).
The woman, 39, was treated at a hospital in the nearby city of Gwalior, Gurjar said.
A photo showed the woman walking while being escorted by police to the hospital. Her face was concealed with a hood, a common practice in India, where law does not allow rape victims to be identified publicly to protect them from the stigma attached to rape in the conservative country.
Francis explains name choice
VATICAN CITY — The focus of Pope Francis’ papacy began to emerge Saturday as he offered some intimate insights into the conclave that elected him pontiff, describing how he was immediately inspired to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi because he wants to see a church that is “for the poor.”
His comments provided further evidence that this first Latin American papacy would be one that looks beyond the confines of the church itself to the most disadvantaged, named for a 13th-century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity and go out in the countryside to preach a message of joy and peace.
“Let me tell you a story,” Pope Francis began in a break from his prepared text during an audience for a few thousand journalists and Vatican communications officials in the Vatican’s auditorium.
Francis then described how during the conclave he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the votes were going his way and it seemed “a bit dangerous” that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.
When the threshold was reached, applause erupted in the frescoed Sistine Chapel.
Ex-friends: Victim was known to lie
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Two former friends of a 16-year-old girl who says she was raped by two Ohio high school football players last summer testified for the defense Saturday that the accuser had a history of drinking heavily and was known to lie about things.
Defense attorneys went after the character and credibility of the alleged victim on the fourth day of the nonjury trial for Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, in juvenile court.
The two are charged with digitally penetrating the accuser, first in a car and then in the basement of a house, while out partying Aug. 12. Mays also is charged with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. The two maintain their innocence.
On the stand Saturday, West Virginia high school student Kelsey Weaver said the accuser told her what happened two days after the alleged attack then, sometime afterward, told Weaver she couldn’t remember what happened.
“So two different versions?” asked Mays’ attorney Adam Nemann.
Striking divide in gay marriage cases
WASHINGTON — No Democratic attorney general in a state that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying has signed onto a legal filing asking the Supreme Court to uphold California’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
No Republican attorney general is asking the high court to rule in favor of marriage equality.
The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, supported by 10 GOP senators, is spearheading the defense of the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from collecting a range of federal benefits otherwise available to married couples.
Some 212 Democrats and independents in Congress want part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act overturned. That includes two dozen who initially voted for it.
A continuing distinct partisan divide is present in the gay marriage cases at the Supreme Court, set for arguments March 26-27, even though a brief on behalf of more than 100 prominent Republicans calls for marriage equality. The split is most apparent in legal briefs filed with the court by state attorneys general.
Obama wants to keep Mideast troubles from boiling over
WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama steps into the Middle East’s political cauldron this coming week, he won’t be seeking any grand resolution for the region’s vexing problems.
His goal will be trying to keep the troubles, from Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon to the bitter discord between Israelis and Palestinians, from boiling over on his watch.
Obama arrives in Jerusalem on Wednesday for his first trip to Israel as president. His first priority will be resetting his oft-troubled relationship with now-weakened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and evaluating the new coalition government Netanyahu laboriously cobbled together.
The president also will look to boost his appeal to a skeptical Israeli public, as well as to frustrated Palestinians.
“This is not about accomplishing anything now. This is what I call a down payment trip,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Mideast peace to six secretaries of state who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Syrian general defects from army
BEIRUT — One of the highest-ranking military officers yet to abandon Syrian President Bashar Assad defected to neighboring Jordan and said in an interview aired Saturday that morale among those still inside the regime had collapsed.
In another setback for the Assad regime, a leading human rights group accused Syria’s government of stepping up its use of widely banned cluster munitions, which often kill and wound civilians.
The twin blows illustrated the slowly spreading cracks appearing in Assad’s regime as well as its deepening international isolation. While few analysts expect the civil war between Assad’s forces and rebels seeking his ouster to end soon, most say it appears impossible for the 4-decade-old regime to continue to rule Syria.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed Ezz al-Din Khalouf announced his defection from Assad’s regime in a video aired Saturday on the Al-Arabiya satellite channel. It showed him sitting next to his son, Capt. Ezz al-Din Khalouf, who defected with him.
The elder Khalouf said that many of those with Assad’s regime have lost faith in it, yet continue to do their jobs, allowing Assad to demonstrate broad support.
— Associated Press